Who knows Shanghai better than those old salt-dogs? Those seasoned vets of the cooking-oil slicked streets that bubble and burst day and night with life and neon lights? They move slow and keep quiet but they’ve seen an evolution most people take for granted. From village-town to booming international powerhouse, what a time to have been alive in Shanghai. So, what’s their story? What do they think about when they stroll around the streets they’ve strolled for decades? “Shanghai Drift” is a visual ode to the olds, a glimpse of the glimpses they’ve had amidst one of the biggest cities on the planet.
My lovely little streets are cracking right along their yellow- dotted seams, what a convenient place for the paint! These gravel hernias all hint at strains from glassy buildings zooming up on both sides and in every direction. Other cracks point at other problems small, medium and large. Like the cracks in all these walls that slowly sway past1: half rubble already and covered in spray-painted names I can’t read. “FRES AMBA” slashed along the wall in white paint, whatever that means2. For all I know it’s another scam, or ad or offering of some kind3. Another etched slew of advice that leaves a little pile of dust. And how could I forget the dust…all that god damned dust everywhere!
The shopping malls and retail joints, shoe shops and cell phone stores, whoever thought up the word “stuff” wouldn’t believe the heaping piles of it now! All these young men and women race to the top, ready to declare themselves the kings and queens, lords over hills of plastic 东东 (dong dong).
These girls all day confound me: whores or bad dressers? A little too early to be galloping out to a club, too late to be coming back from anywhere. It’ll be a space-age miracle if their parents manage to marry them off to a half decent suitor with any mild amount of money. At least they’ll always be able to afford those sparkled foamy flip-flops that hang against the wall on every corner, if they have to walk to find a man I suspect their feet will be glimmering4.
And oh all that money! When did it rain cash? Surely while I was dead asleep. These pac-man people have chomped chomped and chomped away, scouring the streets for every fallen bit of cash. Like a game of snake they’ve writhed and wiggled and covered all the green ground around me.
In waves, these foods all taste the same and suddenly different. How many ways are there to feed people salt?
I sing loudly on my zig-zagging subway treks; the only perk my old age provides: no one wastes their precious time to film me crooning loudly. Lest they might have a photo on their phone of wrinkles, the dire enemy of all things modern.
I greet the sun every morning as it peeks above the buildings, eager to dance and shadow box in the smelly dog shit parks and playgrounds. Like a single giant LED bulb starting its shift among the billions of others, I wonder what that makes us?
24,151,000 is a lot of mouths. More chickens than I can imagine and a forest’s worth of disposable chopsticks, who says people from the city are missing out on nature? We’re eating it. Swallowing it whole, half-chewed to save time.
Cigarettes cigarettes are so sweet. Like little crutches, too small in fact and so it’s no great wonder I need so many of them to hold me up. If you piled together as many as I’ve smoked over the years I’d laugh deeply from my bloated little belly and smoke them all again.
It’s raining spit with the thunder of throats and sinus cavities, let it rain let it rain! Get out all of yesterday’s bad sauce and half packs of double-happiness. The scientists sure missed the boat on sizzling, poisonous acid rain, at least the part about it falling from the clouds and not the mouths around them.
I’m a hopeless sap for the 酒Jiǔ (liquor)! For the 葡萄酒pútáojiǔ (wine), for the 葡萄酒píjiǔ (beer), the 黄酒huángjiǔ (rice wine) and always for the 白酒báijiǔ (white spirit). What’s a celebration without some red faces buckling to keep the booze back? It’s a dragging formality without my bottles tall and short. I drink and eat and laugh and I’ll have them bury me with some fine 福建糯米酒 Fújiàn nuòmǐ jiǔ (Fujian rice wine), just in case I wake up covered in dirt I’ll drink and laugh and die again with the worms!
I’ll wear my 睡衣shuìyī (pajamas) in the afternoon as I stroll lazily and take booming slurps from my tea jug. Watching the neighborhood mouth-breathe as I mumble about where all the birds and bugs went. We’ll eat them when they come back anyway so I hope they enjoy any journey back.
自行车zìxíngchē (bike) you beautiful old girl! I’ve had you just as long as I’ve had my 妻子qīzi(wife)… I’ll always love you both. We can ride slow together into the sunset, weaving between the city busses and the street noodle carts. Call it the Shanghai drift… I’d sing your name but I forgot to ever give you one!
All these slithering noodles: the throbbing veins of 中国Zhōnghuá (China). They swivel and fold in on each other like a panicked crowd while floating in over-sized pots boiling full of salty city water. Doused in sauce and hacked meats and vegetables, if there’s intelligent life on other planets they’ve figured out noodles by now I’m sure of it. The only question is what they have to add to their 拌麵 Bàn miàn (Noodles)!
I finish all my errands well before lunchtime, the life of a morning bird. This city has exploded into a spinning kaleidoscope of fake colors – patched together with ads and billboards and neon lights. I couldn’t count all the colors but the blue-sky days this year fit snugly on my wrinkly little left hand5. I get so overwhelmed by this city’s vomiting of the color spectrum6 that sometimes I stop to look at the old rusted corners of the streets, the old shop-front gates that tell their own quiet stories7.
I feel sad for other country’s residents who might never know the brand of street justice we giddily put in place here. Car crash to fist fight, our make-shift panels of sidewalk judge and jury dole verdicts like little hammers; tapping tapping tapping.
These damned teeth! The aches of holes neglected and abused. My little fillings of tobacco and beer haven’t held up half so well as I was wishing. With any good fortune I’ll be drinking with those worms before it comes time to pay to fix it!
We’ll leave the worry for the young guns but we can exercise our limp jaws in the shade of my daughter’s little laundry shop. We’ll whistle as she teeters on the wire, balancing some sacred combo of beauty, brains and composure8. As long as there are kids and bills and marriage and money, I don’t suspect to see my jaw get any weaker at least. Not as long as I still have to yell for the 服务员fúwùyuán (Waiter) when the bastard forgets to bring my drink!
Oh the noise! I’m glad my hearing is all but totally gone. I had a hearing aid once but promptly removed and stomped it to little bits right in the middle of the street, exclaiming to everyone that’s what’s going on around here!? I think we could do without all of that.
I stroll along the bund, bumping into all these other folks with all their own stories going on9. As big freighter ships lazily drift on down the Huangpu I imagine them catching fire and exploding, attacked from all sides10. What a tragedy it might be to lose a load of whatever plastic nonsense they probably have aboard.
I guess the construction means success for someone, tell me who’s to blame for all these someones driving around in their fancy cars too fast. What a world, you’re considered lucky if one of them should hit you!
Wrecking balls and cranes and men with hard hats. I wonder just what they think they’re building? I wonder what they’ll think of next! The only thing I don’t wonder about is if they have enough workers…for fucks sake they can barely avoid bumping into each other11! Maybe it will happen like this: they’ll finish what they’re working on, look around and at each other, then one of them will say something like well, I think everything’s all finished! Then they’ll all go home and that will be that! Everything will be all finished.
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1 “Trou de Balle” (枪击/混蛋)
2 “I, Myself” (我，我自己)
3 "Safaitic Reverie" (阳光之下无新事)
4 “Stories on 9th” (九号路上的故事)
5 "Inherently Blue"(自然是蓝)
6 "Scribbles" (乱涂)
7 "More Than Most" (岂止于多)
8 “Tightrope Laundry” (钢丝洗衣线)
9 “I’m new here as well” (我也是新来的)
10 “Options” (选项)
11 “Couldn’t Even Count Them All” (数也数不过来)